The Doors. The Soft Parade: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Rhino/Elektra)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
It was and remains the Doors’ most controversial release.
Album four from the LA quartet took 11 difficult months to record at a particularly rough time for the band. Frontman Jim Morrison had been arrested at a show in Miami on March 1, 1969 for indecent exposure and profanity — and was in the midst of an alcoholic binge for most of the The Soft Parade’s sessions. There was also a lack of new material from Morrison, forcing co-songwriter Robby Krieger to pick up the slack. Although Krieger is now known to have penned “Light My Fire” (songwriting on previous Doors releases was credited to the act as a whole), his trio of tracks weren’t up to the standards he himself had set.
To make matters worse, Krieger’s songs and others were “enhanced” by often schlocky horns and strings that diluted, instead of improving, the mysterious vibe the band had spent years crafting. Five decades after The Soft Parade’s July, 1969 appearance, it arguably remains the Doors’ worst and most muddled studio collection.
Even this package’s notes call it “polarizing.”
But 50th anniversaries being what they are, no one was going to let any of that stop a deluxe, three-disc reissue. Thankfully there is enough previously unreleased and rare material to make this a worthwhile addition to any Doors lover’s collection. Additionally, fresh remastering by the band’s longtime engineer Bruce Botnick reveals sonic subtleties with a clarity missing on other editions.
However, it is the stripped down versions of five of the nine songs, removing the often intrusive, although occasionally effective (on “Touch Me”) strings and horns, that is a revelation. It’s The Doors as most want to hear them; raw, tough and tight as on the riff driven “Wild Child” with its nasty slide guitar, the first song recorded for the set and arguably its most potent. The difference is striking on the opening “Tell All the People” where the overdubbed brass was most grating. The naked “Wishful Sinful,” a gem that lost much of its beauty anchored down with production excesses, now becomes one of the sets most moving moments.
More controversial is the addition of Robbie Krieger’s new guitar lines tacked on to three of his compositions (“Touch Me,” “Wishful Sinful” and the misguided but well-meaning twangy tribute to Otis Redding, “Runnin’ Blue”). It’s a case of revisionist history that isn’t terrible but generally unnecessary, especially when Curtis Amy’s iconic sax solo on “Touch Me” is erased. Less egregious is the new bass part laid onto three previously unreleased blues tracks sung by Ray Manzarek including an early take of “Roadhouse Blues.” His voice is no substitute for Morrison’s classic pipes but he attacks this batch of rootsy tunes with an enthusiasm that overrides any vocal limitations.
Disc three is dominated by a meandering hour-long studio session complete with false stops and starts that finds all four Doors at their most relaxed; jamming on Elvis staples, loose blues and rockabilly with Morrison spouting stream of consciousness lyrics. It’s worth a listen but isn’t something you’re likely to replay often, especially since the 61 minute cut isn’t divided into sections. Still, it’s the closest you’ll come to being a fly on the wall during the making of this album.
The Soft Parade still has many highlights like the riveting “Shaman’s Blues” worthy of rediscovery. This edition’s revelation of less commercial takes of the most altered songs, along with rarities and in “Who Scared You” a previously released B-side added back as the final track, is worth investigating, especially for fans who had misgivings about the original edition.